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December 13, 1991 - Image 33

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-12-13

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

BACKGROUND

The Peace Talks:
Are They Doomed?

The talks don't seem to be going anywhere:
Israel shot itself in the foot; Syria wants
Palestinians to be tougher, and the U.S.-may be
getting distracted.

HELEN DAVIS

Foreign Correspondent

A

up

0'•

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Or'

fter suffering a self-
inflicted public rela-
tions wound by refus-
ing to accept the United
States' invitation to attend
peace talks in Washington
on Dec. 4, Israel's negotia-
ting teams traveled to Wash-
ington last weekend in a bid
to salvage some of their tat-
tered credibility.
But there was little expec-
tation that fences would be
quickly mended with the
Bush administration. Nor
was there any serious expec-
tation that the Israeli dele-
gates' late arrival in Wash-
ington would signal a diplo-
matic breakthrough.
Jerusalem insisted that its
delegates return home by
this weekend after no more
than three meetings in
Washington to agree on a
venue in or near the Middle
East for future talks.
By rejecting the invitation
to start talks last week,
Israel was protesting not
only the refusal of the Arab
parties to meet in the region
itself, but also the United
States' intrusive role at the
pre-negotiating stage.
Jerusalem's foot-dragging
was intended to convey the
message that deadlock with
its Arab neighbors would not
— could not — be broken by
a diktat from Washington,
which is increasingly
perceived as pro-Arab.
But Israel's refusal to at-
tend last week's talks was
an empty protest, and when
its delegates flew into Wash-
ington, their balance sheet
showed a net loss.
Israel had failed to con-
vince the Arabs to move the
talks to the region and it had
failed to convince the United
States to butt out and leave
the parties to sort out their
own problems.

It had lost valuable PR
capital without the compen-
sating benefits of diplomatic
gains.
Most ominous, the Bush
administration is suffering
no discernible political
damage from acting tough
with Israel. This lesson will
not be lost on the Democrats,
who have little enthusiasm
for defending Israel keeping
the territories.
What should now be ob-
vious, .if it were not already
so, is that all parties' room to
maneuver has been reduced,
perhaps permanently, to a
low-stakes diplomatic poker
game in which there can be
no real winners.
The game evokes
and prompts intemperate
outbursts, impotent rage
and political petulance.
Ultimately, however, it is an
empty test of wills that pro-
duces only continued
stalemate.
The United States' un-
questioned supremacy and
its firm resolve means that
none of the parties can afford
to bang the table and say
"No!" They can still bang
the table, but their rhetoric
now is restricted to "Maybe

The only credible pressure
on the parties comes from
the threat of retaliation by
Washington _against those
perceived to be thwarting
the peace process.

State Department gurus
seem driven by the assump-
tion that the mere act of br-
inging the parties to the ne-
gotiating table will unblock
a half-century of embedded
suspicion and hostility.

Such an assumption is
likely to prove naive, if not
actually dangerous. So far,
the process has served simp-
ly to emphasize differences
and provoke confrontation.
It has inspired no new con-

fidence and has achieved no
positive movement.
Now, six weeks after the
historic face-to-face
meetings in Madrid, the
Arabs and the Israelis have
still not broken the
"psychological barrier"
which is considered to be the
first step to successful Mid-
dle East peace-making.
There have been no
groundbreaking Sadat-like
gestures that address
Israel's fundamental con-
cerns over security, recogni-
tion and legitimacy; no re-
ciprocal Begin-like gestures
that address the basic Arab
concern for territorial con-
cessions.
More pertinent than ever
is the question: Will the
peace process succeed?
There is no definitive an-
swer, but any response must
be hedged with qualifica-
tions: Yes, if the Arabs want
it to. Yes, if the Israelis want
it to. Yes, if all parties are
prepared for the long haul.
Yes, if the United States re-
mains determined.
There are already indica-
tions that Washington, beset
by domestic political and

The United States'
unquestioned
supremacy and its
firm resolve means
that none of the
parties can afford
to bang the table
and say "No!"

economic concerns in an
election year, will let its at-
tention drift and allow the
momentum to be lost.
There are also signs of
unease among the Arabs,
notably Syria, about strik-
ing a deal with Israel, a
reluctance likely to grow in
direct proportion to any
decline in Washington's

Artwork been Noyesclay by Coey



Copyngh, 1991. Newsday. Dettnhoo0 by Los Angola, Toon Syndicate_

resolve to pursue the peace
process.
At the same time,
however, there are indica-
tions that both Jordan and
the Palestinians, - the
weakest and most
vulnerable links in the Arab
chain, are ready to cut a
deal.
Jordan's King Hussein,
rocked by political, economic
and social problems since
the Gulf War, is anxious to
restore stability and end the
nightmare of Palestinian
violence spilling over from
the West Bank and unsettl-
ing his throne.
Weakening the Palestin-
ians was PLO chairman
Yassir Arafat's support for
Iraq. This returned them to
the diplomatic deep-freeze
and devastated the PLO's fi-
nancial base as Gulf states
turned off their cash taps.
One indication of Palestin-
ians' predicament can be
found in their willingness to
abandon cherished dogma
and accept virtually all of
Israel's demands for
negotiations. They are
prepared to forego PLO rep-
resentation in the negotia-
ting chamber, and are ready
to accept Israel's Camp
David terms for autonomy.
It is likely that Israel will
try to detach Jordan and the
Palestinians from Syria,
which is least enthusiastic
about the peace process and
with whom the prospects of a
settlement are slim.
At the same time,

however, Syria is working
hard to keep the Arab dele-
gations in line and stop Pa-
lestinian representatives
from racing ahead in the ne-
gotiating process. Much of
the future direction of the
peace process will be dic-
tated by deals between Syria
and the Palestinians.

Syrian President Hafez al-
Assad is working two tracks
to pressure Palestinian
leaders in the West Bank
and Gaza Strip to dampen
their passion for compromise
with Israel:

One is through the main-
stream PLO leadership in
Tunis, with whom Mr. Assad
has a rapprochement after a
10-year breach; the second is
via the Lebanese govern-
ment, which Damascus
effectively controls. Palesti-
nians fear that if they
displease Mr. Assad at the
negotiating table, he may
exact revenge through the
500,000 Palestinians living
in Lebanon.
By coincidence, the puppet
government in Beirut re-
cently served notice that it
may expel from Lebanon
about 200,000 Palestinians
it considers "illegal immi-
grants."
Washington's determina-
tion to drag the parties to
the table without prior
agreements or understan-
dings involves a great
gamble: If diploinacy fails,
the cure could be more dras-
tic than the complaint.



THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

33

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